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Dwelling Place invests in Herkimer building, adds new income based housing units

Dwelling Place and Pine Rest CMHS team up to provide services in reconstructed Herkimer building.
Herkimer Apartments

Herkimer Apartments /Courtesy of Dwelling Place

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Nieghborhood vitality is more than housing.

"It's not just housing for the homeless and people with disabilities. It's a whole neighborhood revitalization that's going on here."

- Jerrett DeWyse


Goodrich Street view looking north

Goodrich Street view looking north /Courtesy of Dwelling Place

Courtyard/alley southwest view of new Commerce Building

Courtyard/alley southwest view of new Commerce Building /Courtesy of Dwelling Place

Dwelling Place, in conjunction with Pine Rest, has opened the Herkimer building doors to allow the first wave of residents to settle into their new apartments at 323 South Division Avenue. Fifty-five new units have been filled at the beginning of this week, the first in a process of habitization that will go through March of next year. Dwelling Place projects to have 30 people in by the end of January, 60 by February's end and seven by the end of March. An open house will be held in the spring.

"The building is really part of a much larger project," says Jerrett DeWyse, Director of Housing Development at Dwelling Place.

Fifteen years ago the building was renovated to include 122 apartments. Now those 122 are being remodeled to larger single bedroom units reducing the number of apartments to 55. A new building is under construction right next to it that will include the remaining 67 units, 42 of which will operate under the Housing First model.

Dwelling Place is working with two limited partners, one who owns the Division Avenue side and the other the upper floor of the Commerce Street side. The approximately 10,000 square foot ground floor, owned by Dwelling Place, will be leased by Pine Rest for support and resource services. Pine Rest will provide two case managers for coordination of resident planning that will be funded by Network 180.

Dwelling Place was approached by the Coalition to End Homelessness with the intention to implement a Housing First pilot program. And so 42 of the remodeled Herkimer units will be exclusively dedicated to the Housing First model. The next year and a half was spent in dialogue as they looked to other cities such as Seattle, New York and Columbus, Ohio for precedence.

"It's an effort for us to begin to serve the population without having stipulations on who can come and who can't. Oftentimes when people are in shelters they have to meet all kinds of requirements to get permanent housing. The Housing First model is one where they're trying to say that everybody has a right to housing. And then if they need services we'll connect them with those services. And so, in Grand Rapids we're just trying to see how that really works," says DeWyse.

Between federal and state stipulations, Dwelling Place has its own guidelines that direct who can obtain housing. Implementing the Housing First model reduces those prerequisites to merely government regulation.

The housing first philosophy generally regards housing as a priority above addiction treatment as a predetermining criteria. This works, for example, alcoholics, as it isn't inherently criminal to consume alcohol. It's another story for illegal drug use. For example, federal regulation requires a period of time from the cessation of  illegal drug use before housing can be made available.

So there does remain stipulation according to government rules. However, individual organizational policies can be reduced or eliminated altogether.  

"Part of the whole directive for housing first is to not have shelters, because shelters are temporary. We're really looking at permanent housing. The minimum requirement to get into housing, that's what we'll take," says DeWyse.

Dwelling Place has been in the neighborhood for over 30 years serving the homeless and those with disabilities. This neighborhood revitalization project will include the construction of a courtyard between the two buildings that will be filled with locally commissioned artwork and seating. Another building will be constructed next to God's Kitchen that will serve as a community center.

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